Karelo-Finnish Laika

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Karelo-Finnish Laika
Dubhbairn / Wikipedia.org

Originating from Russia, the Karelo-Finnish Laika is one of a group of ‘Laika’ breeds that share an appearance similar to other Spitz-type breeds. These breeds are recognisable by their medium-sized stature, thick fur coats, and curled tails. The similarity between the Karelo-Finnish Laika and other Laika breeds is due to an overlap in the dog populations from which they were created. The word ‘Laika’ comes from the Russia verb ‘ layat’, meaning ‘to bark.’ So, the Karelo-Finnish Laika could also be titled the Karelo-Finnish Barker, which tells you a lot about this dog’s character.

The Karelo-Finnish Laika was developed as a hunting dog with an almost unrivalled prey drive. To cope with the harsh Russian winters, the dog has a thick, weatherproof coat. But as well as being a roughy-toughy dog physically, the Karelo-Finnish Laika is quite a sweetie on the quiet, with a docile and predictable character. In the right hands, this makes the breed a good match for active families (so long as they don’t have small mammals as pets).

About & History

The Karelo-Finnish Laika breed developed as a practical solution to a real problem. People needed a smaller sized hunting dog capable of coping with the climate, and Laika dogs were the result. This was born out of necessity, at a time when dog breeding was more a matter of opportunity than record, and so no written accounts of the breed’s early development exist.

What we do know is the breed is centuries old and accompanied settlers who colonised the Karelia region of Russia. This area has a long border with Finland, and so it was almost inevitable that some people would cross the border and set up home in Finland. They took dogs of the Karelo-Finnish Laika type with them. In part, this accounts for the similarity between the Karelo-Finnish Laika and the Finnish Spitz, since they both share common parentage. Indeed, this shared ancestry was used to good effect in the mid-20th century, when the Karelo-Finnish Laika needed to be rebuilt due to a sharp decline in numbers.

During the Great Patriotic War of Russia (the period in World War II when then Nazis invaded Russia) the numbers of Karelo-Finnish Laika declined so sharply they were in danger of dying out altogether. To rescue the breed, in the 1960s, there was a concentrated effort to recreate the Karelo-Finnish Laika, using Finnish Spitz dogs to increase genetic diversity.

Happily, those breeding efforts bore fruit and, today, there are healthy numbers of the Karelo-Finnish Laika living in Russia – mainly as pets, rather than working dogs. Given their small size they adjust well to apartment life, provided they are given plenty of exercise, whilst their energy levels and loving loyalty make them a good match for lively families.


Karelo-Finnish Laika Large Photo
Karelgerda / Wikipedia.org

The Karelo-Finnish Laika has the deep-chested, tucked up waist appearance of the Finnish Spitz, along with that other trademark the curled, bushy tail. The Karelo-Finnish Laika has a thick, double coat as befits a dog that can cope with sub-freezing temperatures, ice and snow.

Traditionally, the Karelo-Finnish Laika has a red coat with different shades permissible but with light red frowned up. In addition, some black tipping of the hairs in the saddle-region is permitted, as are some white markings, such as a white stripe on the face or the occasional white spot.

Character & Temperament

Frisky, energetic, gregarious, and loving are all words that apply to this vigilant little dog. At heart, he is a protector, prone to barking when faced with an unfamiliar situation, person, or dog. This extends into a deep-seated desire to protect those in his ‘family’.

As a family dog, the Karelo-Finnish Laika has distinct possibilities. He is loving, loyal, and gentle to those he trusts. Indeed, if he has a fault it’s that he can be over-protective and bark incessantly if he perceives his pack is threatened.

However, never forget that at heart the Karelo-Finnish Laika is a hunter. He has a high prey drive, which could make life a misery for other pets in the home. But unlike other hunting animals, the Karelo-Finnish Laika distinguishes himself by not bringing down his prey so much as stalking them and keeping them in sight. So, with good obedience training, you can at least aim to keep other pets safe!

For a family pet especially, it’s crucial to source a puppy from a breeder who actively socialises the pups from a young age. Contact with plenty of different sights, sounds, smells, and people will built the young dog’s self-confidence and helps to avoid them growing into an anxious or nervous adult with the potential to fear bite.


Any hunting dog has the potential for a stubborn independent streak. This is essential for their success as a hunter since during a hunt their master isn’t always within ear shot to give them instructions. This self-determination can make the Karelo-Finnish Laika a challenge to train, but the good news is that he’s a dog who inherently wants to please.

Use reward-based training methods and spend time each day working on basic commands and the Karelo-Finnish Laika should respond well. As well as training consistently, the key to success is motivating the dog with a tasty titbit when he does as asked.

The Karelo-Finnish Laika can be trained with reasonable amount of efforts. This dog is both intelligent and crafty so it usually can get away with tasks, which it doesn’t like or considers as boring. The trainer shouldn’t expect unquestionable obedience and be prepared to work on things.

It’s essential to motivate the breed member with something more tangible than gentle words and pats. For the best results, reward every minor success with small bits of the dog’s favourite treat. Be careful to avoid verbal or physical punishments since these only make Karelo-Finnish Laika more resistant to your training efforts rather than less.


The Karelo-Finnish is a robust little dog that is blessed with good health. There are only a couple of issues that regularly crop up and these concern the hip and elbow joints.

Hip and/or Elbow Dysplasia

The word ‘dysplasia’ refers to a malformation of the relevant joint. This inherited condition leads to the development of poor hip or elbow anatomy. Unfortunately, a badly shaped joint means constant knocking of the surfaces, leading to pain and inflammation. In the short term, the dog may be lame on the affected leg. In the long term, the constant pain is disabling and the joints prone to the development of early onset arthritis.

Ideally, affected individuals should not be bred from so that they don’t pass their faulty genes down to the next generation. For those puppies already born, giving a good joint supplement can help condition the joint lining and slow the progression to arthritis. Managing the pain associated with hip or elbow dysplasia often requires giving long term pain-relieving medications. In the worst cases then surgery to replace the affected joint is the gold standard (albeit an expensive one).

Exercise and Activity Levels

Whilst the Karelo-Finnish Laika has the fluffy good looks of a cuddly toy, he is no lap dog. The urge to hunt runs through him like lettering through a stick of rock, and so he must get plenty of exercise. Games such as 'fetch' are ideal as they allow the dog not only to exercise vigorously but have a ‘prey’ to chase after.

The Karelo-Finnish Laika is, however, a small breed, and unlike other hunting dogs, he is content to curl up in a small space at the end of a busy day. Thus, the owner that commits to a vigorous exercise regime but happens to live in a city would do well to consider owning a Karelo-Finnish Laika.

Of course, the other drawback is the Karelo-Finnish Laika tendency to bark, making it even more important that he falls into a contented deep sleep at the end of a busy day… rather than develop the habit of barking at the neighbours.


The Karelo-Finnish Laika has a thick double coat, consisting of longer, coarse outer guard hairs and a softer, more downy undercoat. The breed sheds moderately all year round, with an especially heavy shed twice a year. Professional grooming or trimming is not necessary, but a weekly brush at home will help to reduce the amount of shed hair on the soft furnishings. The coat is largely self-cleaning, and baths are unnecessary – indeed undesirable – unless the dog gets especially dirty.

As with all dogs, the Karelo-Finnish Laika’s teeth should be brushed daily to promote good dental hygiene. Always use pet toothpaste, since human toothpaste contains fluoride, which is toxic to dogs when swallowed.

Famous Karelo-Finnish Laikas

A great place to explore the beauty of the Karelo-Finish Laika and other Spitz-type dogs is Pinterest.


The Karelo-Finnish Laika is not usually used as for deliberate cross breeding.

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